Editor's Note: This story has been updated with additional quotes from Pear Therapeutics.
The poster child of digital therapeutics-pharma collaborations is soon to be no more, as Novartis division Sandoz announced that it is handing sole responsibility for the commercialization of the reSET and reSET-O prescription digital therapeutics back to Pear Therapeutics.
“Pear and Sandoz previously signed a co-promotion agreement and accordingly, Pear has already built a standalone commercial infrastructure capable of supporting reSET, reSET-O and future [prescription digital therapeutics],” Sandoz and Pear wrote in a joint notice yesterday. “Sandoz believes that Pear is now well-suited to continue to bring these important digital therapeutics to patients, HCPs and payers, and will continue to partner with Pear and support the commercial efforts through a transition period to ensure uninterrupted patient access to reSET and reSET-O.”
The statement said this decision came as part of a “transformation and subsequent leadership change” within Sandoz, a major part of which is the decision to focus on its "core business".
"Pear has built the commercial infrastructure necessary to solely handle commercialization of reSET, reSET-O and the future development of additional prescription digital therapeutics," Corey McCann, president and CEO of Pear, told MobiHealthNews in an email statement. "Today's transition is a purely positive development for patients and for Pear. Pear Therapeutics appreciates the dedication, support and investment from the Sandoz team, which helped to raise the profile and demonstrate the need for [prescription digital therapeutics] in SUD and OUD. Our short-term goal is to build on the momentum generated to-date as we continue to work to ensure people suffering from addiction have access to these [prescription digital therapeutics]."
The notice did not specifically mention the unreleased digital therapeutics that Pear and Sandoz agreed to co-develop at the time of their initial agreement in March 2018. However, it appears that those agreements between the companies are still on the table.
"Novartis has already invested in the Series A, B and C financings, and is committed to the success of these investments in the future," McCann said in a separate statement. "The Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) has a separate collaboration with Pear focused on developing [prescription digital therapeutics] to treat patients with schizophrenia and to reduce the mental health burden for patients with multiple sclerosis.
WHY IT MATTERS
The story of digital therapeutics commercialization is very much still being written, and the young sector’s frontrunners are so far taking fairly different approaches to distributing their digital products. Pear’s partnership with a major pharma company like Novartis represented one such tactic, and allowed Pear to employ the resources, relationships and experience of an established business partner.
“[Novartis has] developed a model that is very successful [in] educating physicians when they’re innovative, and to work with payers as well as supporting patients. That’s really what Pear was looking for, and the goal was to find partners with that level of excellence and experience in bringing innovative treatments,” Dr. Yuri Maricich, Pear’s chief medical officer and head of clinical development, told MobiHealthNews last November during the commercial launch of reSET. “It’s not always going to be the same playbook — but that’s what pharma has done well, right? Pharma constantly is weighing new treatments and they can leverage their experience, but they can also leverage their expertise when it is something novel.”
The notice and McCann's statement imply that Pear has by now established much of the infrastructure necessary to distribute reSET, reSET-O and the other therapies in its pipeline self sufficiently. However, it will still be interesting to see whether or not Pear looks to fill some part of the gap with another major pharma partner down the line — both in terms of Pear’s business, and when considering the broader shape of the developing digital therapeutics market.
THE LARGER TREND
Pear and Novartis’ breakup comes at a time when many in the digital health sphere are touting the value of pharma partnerships.
A report from Rock Health just a few months ago predicted that the round would be a bit bumpy, but that collaborations between these kinds of companies would continue to proliferate in the coming years. Pharma executives have also come out in broad support of the technologies, with Sanofi’s chief medical officer and chief digital officer and others urging their peers to embrace the risks and challenges of novel treatments and digital tools. And although they’ve been a bit quiet since the announcement of a five-year, $88 million deal, things still seem to be going along well between Otsuka Pharmaceutical and Proteus Digital Health.
Still, not every big name in digital therapeutics wants to emulate the established drug distribution system. Akili Interactive Labs has been very outspoken about its decision to buck traditional licensing agreements for its upcoming video game-like therapeutic, and so far is limiting its deals to those that will allow it to retain control of distribution, data collection and other key considerations.
“The traditional medicine models, I don’t think that’s where we should be as digital therapeutics," Akili Interactive Labs CEO and cofounder Eddie Martucci said during last month’s DTx East conference. "I think this is a new modality, so there’s a lot of questions coming from the people that put pressure on the industry like investors, like public markets, like others, to say ‘Is the pharmaceutical model of digital therapeutics going to win? Is the B2B software model of digital therapeutics going to win?’ That puts a lot of pressure for people in our shoes to sometimes subconsciously default to some of these standard models, these standard product features, and to play it safe. I don’t think we’re ever going to demonstrate value to patients in the way digital therapeutics really can … unless we make big bets, unless we say traditional medicine not only may not be the answer, is very likely not the answer, and we need to invest and stumble a little bit, experiment [with] putting out creative models.”